by J Erin
A girl with no one and a boy suffocating in expectations. It's up to them to save it all.
Tia tucked a lock of golden brown hair behind her ear and did her best to ignore the stares of the Traders. The whole being stared at thing was getting old; it was old sixteen years ago, too, which was when she was old enough to understand what being different meant.
She was almost painfully aware that she looked nothing like the rest of them, and her light bronze skin stood out like a sore thumb against the rest of the villagers dark skin whenever visitors came. She wished she could just disappear a lot of the time.
"Don't just stand there, Tia!" An older woman chided. "Make yourself useful and go unload the wagons!"
Tia sighed and went over to the wagons, one of the girls already there glanced over at her and winked, a grin on her face. Tia smiled; Enya had never seemed to care that Tia was strange, and the cocoa skinned girl was her best - and only friend. "Was that Suma I heard yelling at you?" she asked.
"Who else would it have been?" Tia responded with a sigh. "I don't know what I did to her specifically, but according to her I'm the laziest person in the world."
"Which is hilarious because it seems like the only work she ever does is tell everyone else to do things."
Tia snorted in agreement and lowered the crate she had grabbed onto the ground a few feet from the wagon. One of the boys snatched it up with a scoff as soon as she put it down. "Stop talking and start working." Tia stared after him - to have been that quick he had to have been standing there for a while - so why had he waited until she had put the crate down to get involved?
Enya rolled her eyes, "He's one to talk, he's always skivving off." The two of them finished unloading the wagon they were working on and Tia sat down on one of the crates with a sigh - her shoulders ached from lifting the heavy boxes. Enya sat beside her with a groan, "Why are we always the ones that get the big wagon? "
"Because we're the strongest." Tia responded and Enya laughed slightly.
"Tia!" a familiar voice shouted.
"Oh no..." Tia muttered, "here we go again..."
"Who said that you could just sit around?" Suma demanded and Tia's jaw tightened - Suma knew very well that she had just barely finished with the last chore she had been given. "Well, if you have so much time on your hands, then you can go split wood and refill the woodpiles."
Enya straightened up indignantly and was about to say something, but Tia put her hand on her arm to quiet her and stood up. "Yes Suma, I would be happy to help, thank you for asking." Her tone was cordial, but she knew from Enya's faint scoff that the other girl had caught the sarcastic undertone.
Suma harrumphed, some of the wind taken out of her sails by Tia's easy acceptance. Of course, because ordering her around is only fun if you know it's something she doesn't want to do.
Tia waved goodbye to Enya, and headed towards the wood clearing. There were others already there cutting down the felled trees into more manageable chunks; without saying anything, Tia went over to a pile of cut wood and picked up the hatchet nearby.
The hatchet made a rhythmic shink-thunk sound as it bit into the wood over and over again - the one good thing about splitting wood, Tia supposed, was that it didn't take a whole lot of brain power - all you had to do was hit the wood with the axe and not hit yourself in the process. The bad part was how physically taxing it was.
Tia chopped until she was blinded by the sweat in her eyes and couldn't lift the hatchet anymore - she was never one to do things halfway. With a tired sigh she swung the hatchet and let it stick in the chopping block, then stepped back and massaged her burning muscles. The break only lasted a few minutes, then she piled some of the newly split wood onto a sled and dragged it back into the village to refill the cabin's woodpiles.
Tia was putting some wood in the pile behind the chief's home when she overheard one of the Traders speaking to the Chief. "What's the story on the light skinned girl?"
"Tia?" the Chief began. "No one truly knows, she was found years ago outside the village. We could never find where she came from, so the women took turns caring for her."
"She's beautiful," the Trader commented, and the tone of his voice made Tia shiver.
"She is definitely exotic." The chief conceded. "She has never truly fit in with the rest of the villagers."
That's because you never really gave me a chance to... Tia thought with a touch of bitterness.
"I could take her off your hands for you..." The Trader offered and Tia's blood ran chill - she definitely did not like where this conversation was going. Her chore was completely forgotten as she pressed herself against the wall, listening breathlessly for what would happen next.
The chief was quiet for a long while, and Tia silently prayed that he would refuse, "That... wouldn't be impossible for us to arrange." he said finally and Tia could hear the triumphant grin in the Trader's voice.
"Excellent, shall we work that out now..." They continued their conversation with Tia listening on. Finally she slid to the ground and put her head in her hands; a tear slid down her cheek - she was sold. Sold for ten pieces of gold. "I will be leaving in the morning, you will make sure she is ready?"
"I warn you, she will not go quietly - she is strong willed."
"I will soon change that." The Trader responded.
"I wish you luck. She will be there in the morning."
The men left the cabin and Tia spent a few moments collecting herself, then stood up and finished organizing the woodpile. By the time she was done, she was no longer hurt - she was angry. How dare Chief Lucre do that? She was not an item to be bought and sold at a whim; as different as she was, that didn't make her his property!
Enough was enough - Tia had spent her entire life being stared at, teased, and looked down on, either because she had lighter skin or because she was an orphan; even her name just meant 'girl' in the old language. Well, one thing was certain; she would NOT be there in the morning.
Dusting her hands off, Tia headed towards her home - a one room annex off of Enya's family's cabin; once there she considered her things, determining what she would need to take with her. Her spare boots went into her pack first, followed by some clothes, her medicine kit found its place in the bag next. She brushed her hair back into a tail and tied it with a strip of leather, then slipped her bone brush into an outer pocket of her pack. Tendrils of hair fell into her turquoise eyes and she blew them back.
"What are you doing?" The voice made Tia jump and spin around; Enya was standing in the doorway, looking over Tia's preparations in confusion.
"Enya!" Tia gasped, "you scared me half to death."
"Are you going somewhere?" Enya stepped into the room, an almost hurt expression on her face.
Tia felt tears prick her eyes again. "Yes..." she whispered. "Oh, Enya, Chief Lucre sold me to one of the Traders!" Enya's eyes widened in shock. "I'm leaving - I don't know where I'll go, but I can't be here in the morning."
"Chief Lucre told you he sold you?" The dark girl asked incredulously.
Tia shook her head, "I overheard them make the deal."
Enya's expression hardened, "I'll be right back."
She turned to leave and Tia grabbed her arm. "Don't tell him I know!" She pleaded "I'll never get away if he thinks I'm going to run!"
"I'm not telling him," Enya sounded insulted that she would even consider that that is was she was planning to do. "As much as I would like to give him a piece of my mind, I know I can't. But you can't go off on your own with just the little you have, now can you?"
Tia's hand slid from her friend's arm. "You're really going to help me?"
"Of course," Enya responded, "let's both go out and see what we can gather."
The two girls left the room and split up in the main square. All the years of being teased served Tia well today, as she was able to make casual conversation with a few of the villagers, and even talk respectfully with one of the Traders.
A few hours later Enya and Tia returned to Tia's room and laid their finds out on the bed. A hunting knife, some gloves, a large pile of jerky and dried fruit, a rope, flint and steel, and two water bags, along with a leather blanket, and then Enya tossed a jacket onto Tia's bed next to her pack.
"You might actually survive out there now," Enya observed, looking over the pile.
"Where did you get the jacket?!" Tia questioned in awe; someone would definitely be missing that.
"It's mine, but you'll need it more than I do." Tia just stared at her friend - how in the world did she get such a stalwart friend amongst the distance of the village? "Let's get you packed, it's getting a little late, and I'll have to be in before curfew to keep anyone from getting suspicious."
They soon had Tia packed, all but the water bags as she would need to fill those at the Well before she left, and even those would be tied to the outsides of her pack. Tia pulled the dark leather jacket on and tied it closed, then Enya handed her a hunting belt - undoubtedly her brother's - Tia could only smile and fasten it around her waist, adjusting the knife that hung from it so it rested where it wouldn't hinder her movement.
"Good luck, Tia," Enya hugged her and Tia buried her face in Enya's neck for a moment. "Take care of yourself. If anything happens to you I will be very angry."
Tia laughed slightly. "I will. Thank you for everything Enya, somehow we'll see each other again, I promise."
"You'd better." Enya retorted and left, heading into her house.
Tia sat quietly, looking around, everything in her room of value - sentimental mostly - had been packed; not that there was much. She couldn't afford to fall asleep tonight - she had to be ready to leave. When it had been dark for several hours, and the village had been quiet for a little less, Tia pulled the jacket hood over her hair and slipped out into the moonlit night.
The Trader caravan was camped on the side of the village by the Well and Tia almost couldn't breathe as she gingerly lowered the water bags into the Well. Someone shifted and she froze, her heart was beating so loudly in her ears that she was sure someone else would hear it; whomever made the noise settled down into sleep again and Tia pulled the bags back up. Capping the now full bags she strapped one to her pack and tied the other one to her belt.
She left the Well and moved softly towards the edge of the village. She passed the clearing where the logs are cut down to be used in fires and a gleam of moonlight on metal caught her eye - the hatchet she had used earlier that day was still in the chopping stump where she had left it; she considered it for a moment, then went over and pulled it from the wood - it never hurts to have another weapon. She slipped the handle through a loop on her belt and continued on; pausing again at the edge of the village, listening breathlessly for that sound of someone following her. She heard nothing, and so took off into the forest - all she had to do now was make sure she was far enough away by morning to not get caught.
She was free.